David Ayer makes ugly films. I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult, the world can be an ugly place. But between movies like End of Watch, Sabotage, Fury, and now Suicide Squad, the man’s movies are so drenched in blood and grime that I really think the man needs a hug.
I had high hopes for Suicide Squad. It boasts a great cast and had a ton of potential. It doesn’t live up to all of that potential, but it manages to be entertaining.
Don’t get me wrong, the movie is a mess. But at least it’s an enjoyable mess.
Suicide Squad is the latest installment of DC and Warner Brothers’ series of films based on DC Comics characters. The previous two installments, Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, were met with mixed reactions, to say the least. So was Suicide Squad. It got dreadful reviews but still scored a whopping $130 million-plus opening weekend.
One of the biggest problems people had with the previous DC movies was that they were too dark and stodgy. They didn’t capture the same sense of fun that Marvel has done so well with in its series of interconnected blockbusters over the last decade or so. To writer/director David Ayer’s credit, his film is funnier than the previous ones, there are quite a few funny moments and one-liners.
But like I said, the movie is a mess. Let’s start with the characters. There are a lot of them in the movie, but there are really only two worth caring about. Those two are Harley Quinn and Floyd Lawton, aka Deadshot, played by Margot Robbie and Will Smith respectively. Deadshot is the most skilled assassin in the world, expert with every type of firearm, including a musket we’re told, although unfortunately we never get to see him use one.
Harley Quinn is the Joker’s former psychiatrist turned sort-of-girlfriend, although their relationship is unconventional to say the least. Both characters, along with many others in the movie, are making their big-screen debuts. The other characters are enjoyably quirky, but most of them aside from Harley and Deadshot have little background given to them and little personality beyond their obvious quirks.
Those quirks are largely tied in to their choices of weaponry. Captain Boomerang is a beer-swilling Australian who throws boomerangs, Katana is a samurai chick whose sword holds the souls of people it’s killed (?), Killer Croc is a giant lizard monster, Slipknot is a guy who’s really good with ropes, and Diablo is a Latino gangbanger with flame powers. There’s also Dr. June Moone, who just so happens to be possessed by an ancient spirit known as Enchantress. Sounds like a motley crew, right?
The movie desperately wants to be DC’s version of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it’s nowhere near as coherent. The motley crew described above is recruited by a government operative named Amanda Waller, an infamous hardass who implants the members of the squad with explosive devices in their necks to ensure their compliance. She thinks of them as the perfect black-ops crew, skilled in causing mayhem and completely deniable by the government if anything goes wrong.
Things go wrong rather quickly, with (spoiler alert) Enchantress promptly stirring up trouble by resurrecting her ancient evil brother and turning people into weird-looking gooey black creatures. I thought of them as mushroom zombies because they reminded me of some of the enemies from a video game called The Last of Us, which were infected with some kind of fungal virus (or would that be viral fungus?).
If all of this sounds vague, it’s because I don’t know how else to describe it. And all of this happens so fast that the viewer barely has any time to process it. In other words, the movie’s pacing is completely off. The squad is introduced and then things go from 0 to 100 in no time flat, and the squad is helicoptered in to a besieged city to stop the mushroom zombies spawned by the evil Enchantress.
I love (fictional) villains, and part of the reason I was so excited for this movie was because it is all about the bad guys. “Stay evil, doll-face,” Deadshot says to Harley at one point. But of course the problem is that the villains have to become the heroes in order to save the day, and the central antagonist they face is spectacularly uninteresting.
Probably the movie’s best-known character is the Joker, played here by Jared Leto. Words cannot describe Leto’s horrific appearance. Short, neon-green hair, red lips, metal-capped teeth, covered in tattoos (including one on his forehead reading “Damaged”), with pale, corpselike flesh, he resembles nothing so much as a grinning, green-haired zombie.
Much of the film’s marketing centered around Leto’s Joker, but he has very little screentime. He pops up intermittently but has no prominent role in the story. He’s a bit player more than anything else, and he doesn’t have a standout scene like the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight or the museum vandalism in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Despite his nightmare-inducing visage, he’s not very memorable as an actual character.
We see part of the beginning of his relationship with Harley, including a rather upsetting scene where he makes her jump off a ledge into a vat of chemical sludge to demonstrate her loyalty to him, and there’s a brief confrontation between him and Ben Affleck’s Batman. The Caped Crusader makes a very brief cameo appearance, he’s in the movie for less than five minutes. There’s also a surprise cameo from another Justice League member, but I won’t spoil which one.
There are fun action sequences, and each member of the squad gets to kick some ass, with one notable exception. There’s one character who exists for the sole purpose of getting his head blown off in order to demonstrate that Waller wasn’t bluffing about the explosive devices implanted in their necks.
It is still fun to see these characters onscreen together, especially as a comics fan. I liked how the character of Killer Croc was done entirely practically, instead of a digital creation the actor was subjected to what I’m sure was like six hours in the makeup chair. It’s a hefty commitment to a character who (surprise) has little influence on the outcome of the story, and it’s nice to see the filmmakers’ dedication to bringing these characters to life, even if the end results are somewhat less than satisfying.
A better Suicide Squad movie is the animated movie Batman: Assault on Arkham, which despite its title is a Suicide Squad movie in all but name. It features many of the same characters (such as Harley, Joker, Deadshot and Captain Boomerang) and a much more coherent plot. In it, the Squad must infiltrate Arkham Asylum to confront the Riddler, who is up to something nefarious, and things get complicated when Joker gets involved. Batman is more of a peripheral character, stalking the villainous characters from the shadows.
It’s a plot I wish the movie had followed more closely. The film’s trailers made it look like Joker was the central antagonist, but he absolutely isn’t. The story is scattershot and the movie ends up being a hodgepodge full of fun but jumbled action and an overabundance of characters and subplots, most of which are either not very interesting or just outright bizarre. For example, the movie tries to work in a redemption subplot for the flame-powered Latino gangbanger, which feels shoehorned in and completely out of place.
Writer/director David Ayer wants so badly to make DC’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but he rushes it. He even tries to ape that movie’s wonderful use of 70’s pop music, but again, he rushes it. In its early going, the movie jumps from song to song so quickly that each one barely has time to register. Part of what made the music in Guardians so effective was that the movie spaced out the songs, lending each one its own impact. But Ayer crams them all together one after the other, rendering them much less effective.
I had such high hopes for this movie. But sadly it’s a mess. I don’t hate it, though. Much like The Lone Ranger or Batman Returns, it’s deeply, profoundly flawed, but I don’t hate it. It manages to be more consistently entertaining than Batman V Superman, and its sheer spastic weirdness makes it completely unlike any other movie now in theaters. It features a handful of good performances, most notably by Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who are the movie’s best assets.
It’s a stylish movie and the special effects, makeup and costumes look great, but it’s a shame that all of it is in support of such a clunky plot. “That’s a whole lot of pretty and a whole lot of crazy,” a prison guard says about Harley early in the film. It ends up being an apt description of the film itself.
The movie is choppy as hell, but I’ll still pick it up on Blu-Ray and watch all the special features. I’m not sure what that says about me, but maybe we should all be more worried about David Ayer. Seriously, someone give the man a hug and maybe a cookie.